I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography and time lapse.

Facebook shouldn't own your social graph

Updated on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Facebook shouldn't own your social graph

"Get News. Not too quickly. Avoid social. — Farhad Manjoo"

It's time to break up the Facebook social media monopoly.

There has been a shift in attitude towards regulation of tech companies recently, according to Axios:

"A majority of Americans are now concerned that the government won't do enough to regulate how U.S. technology companies operate, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll. Across the board, concern about government inaction is up significantly — 15 percentage points — in the past three months."

Roger McNamee recently suggested a subscription model in a Washington Post OpEd:

"Despite a firestorm of criticism, Facebook refuses to make material changes to its business practices. It has also refused to provide substantive data about Russian interference to congressional committees, despite several requests. As a result, we can expect interference in the upcoming midterm elections. Anyone can follow the Russian playbook; many are likely to do so."

I've made the same argument myself:

"I tried Diaspora and App.net but they make Google Plus look lively. Facebook, I would pay you for an ad-free, brand-free experience. Also a ban on text on images."

Facebook is unlikely to switch to an ad-free subscription model without being forced to do it. And if we're going to force them to do something why not make them open up the social graph?

Your social network should be your property and you should be able to move it between providers at will. All social network providers should push your content out to your network regardless of where your friends live and accept content back in the same way. Content may be blocked or altered based on community standards on import but never on export. We should mandate this portability and interoperability via legislation.

This means you can 'live' on Facebook or Google or somewhere new. Social media can become competitive again. You might choose to pay a subscription fee to have a friends only feed (maybe in the order that it was published). You might choose censorship, or you might prefer a platform that can handle breastfeeding. There will be plenty of room for innovation on top of the core network. Facebook will probably be a smaller company. Democracy might last a little longer.

This doesn't solve all the problems with Facebook (and social media in general) but it could be an important first step.

(Photo by Shripal Daphtary on Unsplash)

The Trust Project, Fake News and a Partial Facebook Uninstall

Updated on Thursday, May 3, 2018

No Facebook app to be found here

The Trust Project is a well meaning but doomed attempt to deal with fake news.

Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter are all on board because it's important to be seen to be doing something about the problem. Sarah Perez at TechCrunch writes:

"Here’s how this will work in practice: starting today on Facebook, an icon will appear next to articles in the News Feed. When you click on this icon, you can read information the publisher has shared related to their organization’s “ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work,” according to an announcement from The Trust Project."

Please take a minute to scroll through the Trust Protocol Phase I MVP. Yes, this is a minimal viable product where your most recent Diversity Staffing Report is required. I don't think they understand what an MVP is. Which would be fine if they understood how to fix the problem. They don't.

Back in January I wrote this about fake news on Facebook:

"The horrible danger is that if you don't fact check every stupid quote on image meme the power of repetition lodges them somewhere in your subconscious where they become that thing that you read somewhere. Which is OK if you only read quality news but deadly if you want to catch up on old friends quickly."

And back in 2010 on cable news and the Fairness Doctrine:

"24-hour news stations are especially bad because most days there just isn’t that much news. This leaves a choice between repeating the news that exists which is boring, or making stuff up which is a lot more fun. Unfortunately It’s also corrosive."

Yes, it would be nice to have a set of standards around more easily vetting the provenance of "news" that you find on the internet. But the problem is with people taking bullshit at face value (myself sometimes included). When you scroll by something that meets the loose standards of your confirmation bias the damage is done. You're not clicking any Trust Project icon and you're sure as fuck not upgrading Acrobat just to read the Breitbart Diversity Staffing Report.

The Trust Project isn't the answer. Facebook just pulled their disputed flag. The Fairness Doctrine isn't coming back. Is there a technology based fix that might work?

"That’s not going to happen, argues Data & Society founder and Microsoft researcher danah boyd. Google, Facebook, Twitter—none of these companies is sitting on a silver-bullet solution. As boyd wrote for us earlier this year, we have more than a technology problem: “[W]e have a cultural problem, one that is shaped by disconnects in values, relationships, and social fabric."

From The Fake News Culprit No One Wants to Identify: You on Backchannel recently. I see. It's up to me. I have to fix it.

I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my phone just over a week ago. I'm not abandoning social media entirely (although I toy with this regularly). Just pulling back a bit.

For the first few days I'd regularly find my finger headed to launch Facebook. Every time I had a minute to kill. Facebook has no end (usually) so it works even when my RSS feed is empty. I stocked Feedly up with more wholesome content (Trust Project approved no doubt). By the end of the first week I was sometimes even leaving my phone in my pocket.

Now I catch up on Facebook on my laptop every day or two. It's a much better experience - when you check 200 times a day the feed algorithm gets increasingly desperate to please you. It panics and serves up lame memes from someone who you think must have been a coworker at some point but don't really remember. I get through a few updates from friends that I'm actually interested in and bail before hitting the questionable stuff.

It's up to you too.

I didn't think I'd ever fall for fake news of Facebook

Updated on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I seriously considered giving up Facebook as a New Year's resolution when it became clear that fake news was one of the many things that cost Hillary the election.

Not because of what other people might believe. The problem is me. I get my news primarily from the BBC and NPR. I cruise through RSS feeds and podcasts. I'm a savvy media consumer with a well honed bullshit filter. And then I fell for this:

I didn't think I'd ever fall for fake news of Facebook

It just continued to show up in my Facebook feed reposted from various friends and it wormed its way in as something totally Trumpian and plausible and, well, truthy. Which it isn't. I felt like I'd got as far as filling in the wire transfer form before stopping to think that the Nigerian Prince probably didn't need my personal help with expatriating his fortune. I didn't share it or quote it thankfully but it's like that study where everyone thinks they are a better than average driver. I'm vulnerable to this shit.

I keep reading articles about being a better Facebook user and always checking that the site hosting a story is reputable and written by people who have a footprint outside the site and reverse-searching any images to see if they've been used out of context etc etc etc. Which is implausible if you have more than one friend and comes across as victim blaming.

The horrible danger is that if you don't fact check every stupid quote on image meme the power of repetition lodges them somewhere in your subconscious where they become that thing that you read somewhere. Which is OK if you only read quality news but deadly if you want to catch up on old friends quickly.

What I really want is the friend part without the democracy ending bullshit part.

I tried Diaspora and App.net but they make Google Plus look lively. Facebook, I would pay you for an ad-free, brand-free experience. Also a ban on text on images.

I've been trying to block all the fake news sites that show up in my feed but for some reason that option isn't always available. Also that's probably an impossible task unless Facebook decides to offer shared block lists. Which is probably against their best interest.

I wrote this post to talk myself out of not using Facebook but I don't think I've managed to convince myself yet...

(Meme image grabbed from CNN).

(*on*)